Thursday, October 26, 2006

Penwood History - February 21, 1901 to September 28, 1944

Seymour Point

The first owners who built the lodge and outbuildings that now comprise Penwood, William Bedell Sylvester and Helen Seymour Sylvester, built the camp over a period of years starting in 1901, but some documentation shows that work may have begun as early as 1897.

Known as Burnt Point in 1893 on surveyor maps, the Sylvesters renamed the property Seymour Point after Mrs. Sylvester's maiden name. Mrs. Sylvester came from a politically prominent and wealthy family. Mrs. Sylvester's relative, Horatio Seymour, had been Governor of the State of New York from and was the candidate for President of the United States against Ulysses S. Grant.

George Burnap, well known regional builder of Adirondack rustic camps, built the camp in a style reflecting the work of William West Durant, pioneer of the Great Camp style. Locals talked about the unique design of the windows, which included an unusual hinge allowing each window to be raised up an inch out of a protected groove before opening. When each window was closed, it slid back down into the original position, providing a tight fit and insulation in this seasonal house. Marylee Armour in Heartwood, her biography of W. Donald Burnap, George Burnap's son, and David Beetle's book Up Old Forge Way, specifically mention facts about Mr. Sylvester, the building of the camp, and details about the boathouse. The Adirondack syle buildings included:

1. The Camp
2. The Wood Shed
3. The Boathouse
4. The Lean-to
5. The Garage
6. The Pump House
7. Workers barracks for the crew and storage of building supplies.

Treated hemlock bark shingles were used as the exterior building material on some of the buildings, including the main lodge. Some of the camp's original furniture was manufactured in the workers' barracks, including the large dining room table with multiple leaves seating 10 at its greatest size, dining room chairs, a large credenza for the dining room, end and side tables, footstools, umbrella stand, and custom bookshelves in the living room. In addition, each bedroom has a custom built chest of drawers, writing desk, cabinet and luggage rack. The largest bedroom had two luggage racks. All of the furniture was designed in the arts and crafts style and had signature details matching the rustic aura of the camp. Canvas wall covering separates the distinctive beam construction of the downstairs. The canvas was originally a light brown color but was repainted white when Syracuse businessman Albert and Dorothea Rosenthal Gordon acquired the property in 1953.

According to local stories, the three story boathouse was used as quarters for the Sylvester family servants and guests, and there was a small gasoline engine driven sawmill on the ground floor. Mr. Sylvester proudly sported a large launch, which he generously used to pick up neighbors and transport them to church and other places on the lake. He also planted spruce trees that fill the property.

In 1939, according to Bobbette Rosenau, whose family rented Seymour Point from the Estate of James Horatio Seymour, after the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Sylvester, and whose family had a camp on Fourth Lake, The Boulders, now owned by Lorraine Rosenau Alexander and Ben Alexander, the boathouse burned down. A fire truck came to put out the fire and broke the dock when it drove out on to it to douse the flames. The camp and other buildings were saved, but the magnificent boathouse was destroyed. It was never rebuilt in the grand style in which it was originally constructed, with a large wrap around porch on the upper level, several slips for boats, and quarters upstairs for guests and servants.

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